Cooley Farm’s Richard Sheane on dealing 100 horses a year and why no one wanted a future world champion
I left school at 13 and went to work for international showjumpers Jack and Edward Doyle, but I had it in mind that ultimately I’d buy and sell horses myself. I started with one or two a year, working with clients’ horses as an agent, before realising I’d be better off owning them and doing all the work myself.
About 15 years ago I started buying more horses and Cooley was born. My wife Georgina chose the name — I’m from Coolnakilly and she’s from Ballinacoola, and we didn’t want Cool horses, hence Cooley. We wanted a prefix that is easy to pronounce in any language, because many Irish prefixes are unpronounceable.
Ninety-five percent of the horses come from Ireland and I love Irish bloodlines, but we buy European blood, too. Over a year, I’ll buy 100, sell 100 and have 100. I’m selling two or three every week. We buy everything from a foal up to seven-year-olds, but sell very few until they are three. Ireland’s a selling nation, so if a horse is still here at eight it’s probably not what I’m after.
The most rewarding part of the job is the fact the horses win. That’s a huge motivation. I like to have enough money to live but I don’t need a helicopter. I want the horses to win. I’ll always cut a deal if I think the horse is getting to the right rider. Many horses even exceed what I’ve hoped for them, and that’s very exciting.
We’ve sold some fantastic horses. At Blenheim 2017 we won both the CIC3* eight- and nine-year old class and the CCI3* (now four-star), with Cooley Lands and Cooley Cross Border. Cooley Lancer’s young horse World Championship win with Piggy French last autumn was great. We’ve had a lot of horses at Le Lion, but that was our first gold.
The first of Cooley Master Class’ two Kentucky wins, in 2018, was the first five-star win for a Cooley horse, and a week later for a moment I thought we would see another, as Cooley SRS nearly won Badminton. I was a little disappointed.
In this business you need to be a good judge of a horse, but a better judge of a man. With my trusted contacts, I’m only ever a phone call away from knowing the whole truth about a horse. I’ll look everywhere and anywhere in Ireland — you can still find good horses on a verge or the side of a hill, but it’s only two or three a year now and always via contacts.
I think there’s a perception you have to be a top rider and have lots of money to come to me, but I’d love to see more young riders and producers at Cooley Farm. I’ve sold a lot of horses that are top-level now between €10,000 (£8,520) and €20,000. This is what we do; our horses are priced, very simply, to make a profit. If I can buy them cheaply, you can have them cheaply.
One horse currently successful at five-star eventing I purchased for €800 (£680) and sold him for a small profit. We feel strongly that Cooley horses must be of the highest standard regardless of their price.
The dearest horse I’ve ever bought was €120,000 (£103,000) for a rising seven-year-old and he was gone in two days. The right time to sell is when the customer is ready to buy.
A horse’s average stay here is three months, but it totally depends; some are here only a few days.
Regardless of the length of their stay, we are trying to improve them. They’re all reshod and have their teeth done. They’re wormed before they get off the truck. Every hour helps.
A lot of Ireland is copper deficient, so they all get a copper shot, too, and we immediately start working on improving their nutrition. Our riders start training them straight away, and they’re all lunged on the cross-country.
I showed Cooley Lancer to a lot of top-50 riders and no one wanted him. When he won Le Lion, I got about 15 messages from people who hadn’t realised they’d tried him asking if I had any more like that — I told them they should have listened to me! He’s so clever, so blood, a big mover, but at first he was quite fat and looked heavy. Piggy bought him, but she was probably thinking the same as others; she just trusted me.
We sold a couple of horses to China recently and my nephew, who knows I have no formal education and can hardly read and write, asked me if I even knew where China was. I replied,
“Not a clue, but Cooper International Transport have a round thing in their office; they’ll find China on it and send the horses directly there!”
Ref Horse & Hound; 13 February 2020